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The Bridge of Flowers on National Public Gardens Day

Elaine Parmett

In 2004, when the Bridge of Flowers was nearing its 75th anniversary, Elaine Parmett, a member of the Bridge Committee, decided to find out just who and how the Bridge of Flowers began.

“I was a historian so I did research and learned it was Antoinette Burnham in 1928 who complained about the way weeds had taken over the abandoned trolley bridge. She wondered why they couldn’t have a flower garden instead. Her husband, who worked for the Recorder, helped move this idea forward by writing about the bridge; together they built community support,” Parmett said.

There was discussion about tearing down the bridge but it carried an important water main from Shelburne Falls to Buckland. The expense of moving that water main would have been prohibitive, so the idea of a Bridge of Flowers took root. The Women’s Club, the business association and others gave money for the initial planting, but it was the Women’s Club, devoted to serving the community, that undertook the care of the Bridge.

Parmett joined the Women’s Club not long after moving to the area with her husband Dick and two young daughters in 1979. “I attended a meeting and I was so impressed by the caliber of these women, by their warmth of welcome and their commitment to community service. I wanted to be a part of that group,” she said.

She also began volunteering on the Bridge which was then under the supervision of Carol Markle. “Carol was a retired biologist and horticulture professor at Reed College. She opened up a whole new world to me. I had grown up in the suburbs and we had a little vegetable garden and a few annuals, but I was new to perennials. I didn’t worry about Latin names, but learned to pay attention to where a plant liked to live. Carol was very good at educating all of us volunteers. I learned to love perennials, and the Bridge.”

Parmett explained the Bridge of Flowers Committee was upset when Carol Markle finally had to retire. She was known as The General and made many of the decisions. “I didn’t understand their upset. I asked the group what needed to be done – one said she did the publicity, one said she handled the money and so on. So I looked at them and said – so, you need someone to boss you around? They said yes. I laughed and said I could do that. That’s how I became president, but everyone did what they said they would do – and that is true today.”

Parmett said she was honored to serve the Bridge that way, and was grateful to the committee for being so trusting of someone who was younger and still fairly new to the town.

One big event in the Bridge’s history was the renovation carried out in 1983. Carol Markle was a key player in that effort to remove every plant from the Bridge before repairs were made. Volunteer gardeners dug the plants and took them away to tend in their own gardens until they could be replanted on the Bridge in 1984. “Women guarded and took care of those plants because they wanted to preserve the old plants, and special plants – like the wisteria,” Parmett said.

The Bridge has been fortunate to have a number of good gardeners oversee the design and care of the plants, most recently the skilled Carol DeLorenzo and her assistant Tish Murphy.

Parmett has remained involved with what is now called the Shelburne Area Women’s Club and the Bridge of Flowers Committee in many ways over the decades. She has also raised her daughters, worked at a variety of jobs, and returned to school, first Greenfield Community College, then Mount Holyoke, and finally the University of Massachusetts, earning a Master’s Degree in History. Her final job as Academic Advisor was also at UMass, which she left after ten years in 2004.

It was about that time that she became co-chair of the Bridge Committee with Susie Robbins. They did some reorganizing and cleaning up and got the Conway School of Landscape Design to come up with a plan that helped reshape the Shelburne side entrance. “They did a beautiful design that pretty much exists today,” Parmett said.

Recently Julie Petty has served as co-chair with Judy Lawler and they have over seen the installation of the sign-in kiosk, beautiful donation boxes and the Friends Tree sculpture, all designed and created by artist-blacksmith Bob Compton.

“These additions to the Bridge artistically refer to the trolley; the kiosk design reflects the curve of the trolley car, with wood insets that refer to the railroad ties. Sculptor John Sendelbach also created a gate for the Buckland side with an depiction of the trolley car,” Parmett said.

Lynda Leitner tending 1000 plants for May 19 sale

Right now Parmett is preparing to work at the Annual Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale to be held on Saturday, May 19. Lynda Leitner and a group of volunteers have been digging divisions from the Bridge and moving them to Leitner’s house where she has been lovingly tending and watering them until they are moved to the Trinity Church Baptist Lot on Main Street. “This year we have nearly 1000 plants from the Bridge and from local gardeners,” Leitner said. “And that is not counting the scores of annuals from LaSalles or rarities from Hillside Nurseries.”

Vendors selling a whole range of garden related items will also be present. Joanne Sherburne will be there with her new garden whimsies; OESCO’s fine tools; John Sendlebach’s sculptures; Nina Coler’s water color prints; note cards by Polly French, Kathy O’Rourke, Samantha Crawford and Jane Wegscheider; Dancing Bare Soap; Mojo Glass beads; and Shelburne Booksellers. Stillwater Porcelain is offering special Bridge of Flowers items. Proceeds from the plant go to support the Bridge of Flowers .

It was love of community and of flower gardens that created the Bridge of Flowers. Eighty-two years later that same love inspires the volunteers who keep the garden blooming, and, as Parmett says “. . . still connects the two towns, and unites them in a unique and beautiful way.”

Between the Rows May 5, 2012

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